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Woodworking Guide to Safety and First Aid


Any discussion among woodworkers inevitably turns to injuries and battle scars, what went wrong, and how it could have been avoided. The lessons are so often the same: bad things happen when we rush, when we remove the safety features provided with power tools, and when we don’t concentrate on the task at hand.

Ultimately, what keeps us safe is our healthy fear of spinning blades and knives. But just as important is regularly monitoring our shop hazards and being prepared for minor injuries or worse.

The same attention we put into cutting a perfect dovetail, we need to put into maintaining a safe shop environment to ensure we are able to continue to do what we love.

BE PREPARED

How do we prepare for bad things to happen? By imagining the variety of ways things can go wrong and developing a strategy to either prevent it and address it if it happens.

Injuries come in all shapes and sizes. So let’s start with a number of typical strategies where we can avoid injury or be prepared if one happens.

  • Ensure your cell phone is charged, in case you need to call for help.
  • Maintain a battery-operated light source in case of power outage to find your way out safely.
  • Use push sticks and other safety mechanisms appropriate for the tools when possible to prevent injury.
  • Maintain a first aid kit and make it quickly accessible and ready to use.
    • Know how to use each item. If you buy a first aid kit at the store, read the accompanying directions thoroughly.
    • Strategize how you will use each item of a first aid kit with one hand, in case of injury to the other.
    • If you already have a first aid kit, check the first aid kit for expiration. Some treatments or medicines aren’t as effective past a certain date. You should restock the kit once a year.
  • Give first responders the information they may need by keeping any important information about yourself and your family in a handy, easily accessible place.
    • Include your address, everyone’s date of birth, health card numbers, medical conditions, allergies and prescriptions and dosages, as well as contact information for your doctor(s).
  • Review your workshop for unsafe hazards, including:
    • Extension cords that can be tripped over.
    • Outlets not in safe condition (ex. Not properly grounded or hanging from the wall).
    • Wood pieces causing a trip hazard.
    • Using a drill press without clamping it down appropriately.
    • Low hanging hazards that can cause a head injury.
    • Hazardous chemicals not stored properly.
  • Review areas where you might be at a greater risk for injury:
    • Have you removed safety features on table saw or miter saw? If so, can you work with them re-attached or find a way to prevent serious injury?
    • Are you trying to cut a small piece on a band saw without clamping it to a larger piece?
    • Are you using the proper technique on the router table to avoid spin off?
  • Have a Type A fire extinguisher ready to use.
    • Review the procedure for using a fire extinguisher so you can use it immediately before a fire spreads. 
    • Fire extinguishers are good for about ten years, but if you’re using an older one, it might be safer to buy a new one.
  • Use proper personal protective equipment (PPE):
    • Safety glasses
    • Hearing protection
    • Face mask
    • Is equipment labeled to remind you to use PPE? If not, make your own labels or reminders!

SO WHAT IF IT HAPPENS TO ME?


Despite your best efforts, here you are: injured and alone in your shop. Let’s go over some common maker injuries and how to treat them. Luckily, many of these are non-life threatening injuries. But they do require some common first aid items.



Common Maker Injury

Example Causes

Treatment

Tools Needed

Splinter

Handling wood pieces

Carefully remove the splinter and treat the wound with medicine.

Tweezers, antibiotic ointment, adhesive bandage

Cut

Using a saw blade

Close and treat the wound with medicine.

Butterfly or Steri Strips (small wounds); gauze pads and/or roll (large wounds); antibiotic ointment

Burn

Using a blow torch for branding

Treat the wound with medicine.

Burn cream

Fracture

Dropping equipment on your foot or hammering your finger

If necessary, realign the body part to its natural position. Wrap the fractured body part in gauze with a splint to prevent movement.

Gauze, splint

Head injury

Banging your head on equipment

Use a gauze pad to stop any bleeding. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling.

Gauze pad or wrap, adhesive bandages, cold pack or ice

Eye injury

Dust or other debris irritates your eye

Carefully wash out your eyes with water. Rubbing your eyes could cause further injury.

Eye wash and water

Fall

Slipping on spilled liquid finish on the ground

Compress any injured body part. Use ice to stop any swelling.

Gauze wrap, cold pack or ice

Blunt force injury

Kick back from wood not properly running through the table saw

Compress any injured body part. Use ice to stop any swelling. Seek medical attention for serious blunt force trauma.

Gauze wrap, cold pack or ice



WHAT TO DO IF IT GETS SERIOUS


But what if you have a serious laceration, or worse? Follow these five steps to prevent your injury from getting any worse.

Step 1: Calm yourself down, take a deep breath, and make a plan. 

Step 2: Stop the bleeding:

  • Apply direct pressure until the bleeding stops.
    • This could be up to 20 minutes. 
    • Wait at least five minutes without looking at the wound. Every time you remove the bandage delays the healing time.
    • If possible, hold the injury above the level of your heart
  • If blood is spurting out, you may have hit an artery. Proceed to the Emergency Room (ER) or call 911
  • If you are bleeding through all the bandages, call 911
  • Remember, you are your own help until first responders arrive. Review these instructions from FEMA on what to do while you wait.

Step 3: Clean the wound to prevent infection.

  • Wash in plenty of soap and water if possible or with antiseptic towelettes.
  • Remove all foreign bodies such as splinters. Use tweezers if necessary.
  • Wrap the wound in something clean. Gauze or soft wrap is preferable, but a clean shop towel or shirt will work, as well.

Step 4: Close the wound.

  • Use Steri Strips to pull the wound closed and wrap in gauze roll and tape it tight.
  • If the wound cannot be closed, or it’s on your head or face, you may need stitches, so proceed to the ER.
  • If there is a flap of skin, proceed to an Urgent Care or ER.
  • If you see muscle or tendon, proceed to the ER.

Step 5: Monitor the wound closely for signs of infection (such as worsening in redness, streaks of redness spreading, drainage, fever, hot to touch, etc)

  • If you believe the wound is infected, wash with soap and water and remove any visible debris. Use antibiotic cream on the wound and wrap in a bandage.
  • If the infection continues, seek medical attention.
  • If your tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago, get another one.

And if it’s a really, really serious laceration? Like you could lose a body part? In case of a major injury that needs a tourniquet to restrict blood flow, like in the case of an amputation:

  • Ensure the tourniquet is already removed from the plastic shipping package, and left opened up, ready for use with one hand.
  • Use the tourniquet halfway way up the extremity.
    • So if your wrist is injured, attach the tourniquet halfway up your forearm.
  • Use an instant cold pack and zip lock bag to transport the amputated part with you to the ER.

BODY MECHANICS AND INJURY PREVENTION

In your workshop, the safest option is of course, to avoid injury.  As you are often lifting heaving objects or standing for prolonged periods of time, body mechanics are a huge part of preventing injuries. Basic, safe body mechanics comes down to 5 fundamentals of movement:

  • Lift with your knees.
  • Maintain good posture while sitting.
  • Stand with your feet apart.
  • Properly align your body when lifting or turning.
  • Avoid sitting for long hours on end.

To accomplish these fundamentals, keep these procedures in mind.

When you stand

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor about 12 inches (30 cm) apart.
  • Do not lock your knees.
  • Keep your shoulders down, chest out, and back straight.
  • When you lift an object:
  • Your feet should be apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Bend from your hips and knees, do not bend or twist at the waist
  • Lift the object using your arm and leg muscles.
  • Hold the object close to your body at your waist level.
  • Use the same process if you need to push or pull something heavy.

When you sit:

  • Sit with your back straight and place extra support behind your lower back
  • Get up and change positions often if you sit for long periods of time.

 

SUMMARY

You may have shared horror stories with other makers about nasty injuries or cuts, but those only make good stories if you come out healed and well on the other side. Knowing how to properly treat (and prevent) small and serious injuries ensures that your story is just a cautionary tale and not a life-changing event. 

Having a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in your shop is not enough. You also need to know how to use them or tell someone else how to use them. You may even need to teach your family members what to do if you are found incapacitated in your shop. Knowing what to do will prevent panicking, wasting valuable time, or allowing a small injury to spread to a worse injury.

Woodworking can be dangerous, but it doesn’t have to be. Use the safety features on your equipment. Wear PPE. Practice safe techniques. Know how to respond to injuries in your shop. Seek help when you need it.

Be safe out there! 

 

First Aid Kit 

Below is a list of first aid kit contents applicable to common woodworking injuries:


  • Adhesive Bandages 1” x 3”
  • Antibiotic Ointment 
  • Antiseptic Towelettes
  • Instant Cold Pack
  • Gauze Roll
  • Gauze Pads
  • Fingertip bandages
  • Knuckle bandages
  • First Aid Tape ½”
  • Saline/wound spray (available at local pharmacy stores & Amazon) to wash the wound
  • Scissors to cut tape
  • Nitrile Exam Gloves
  • Triangular Bandage 40”x40”x56”
  • 1 hand emergency Tourniquet 
  • Tweezers
  • Zip lock bags

 

Have other questions about building your maker brand and business? Subscribe to the Business for Makers Blog and Business for Makers Podcast for insights and tips. Tune to Sawdust Talk on IGTV Live on Wednesdays at 10 pm CST to hear from makers about their projects and business and meet some great members of the maker community.

By the way, once you get your business name, you’ll need T-shirts to show it off! Check out georgesupplyco.com to get your maker business’s name and logo on a shirt, hoodie, or hat.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Sieng BSN, RN is also a DIYer+Maker+Artist+Plant and Human Mom. Find her on Instagram at @crafty_at_heart

Scott Chervitz is owner of George Supply Company, dedicated to helping woodshops build their brand. See more at GeorgeSupplyCo.com. You can reach him at Scott@GeorgeSupplyCo.com or on Instagram at @GeorgeSupplyCompany

Brian Chervitz M.S. is Associate Instructional Designer at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus.

 

 

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